WiFi Networks And Their Use In Computer Crime

3 July 2009

Many of us now use wireless networking as part of our daily routine when it comes to using the Internet; so much so that we tend to use it also when we are away from our homes and offices. This process, known as using a WiFi Hotspot, is something that hundreds of thousands of us use every day in our major cities up and down the country.

There are even Internet-based sites which list the precise locations of these Hot Spots throughout the country so that traveling business staff, students, journalists and generally people on the move can take advantage of them.

However the problem stems from the fact that it is not just the aforementioned groups that use Wi-Fi; computer criminals also use these Hot Spots in order to gain access to the laptops and PDAs of unsuspecting users.

Generally if you are using a Wi-Fi Hot Spot outside the confines of your office or home you will have to disable your wireless encryption so that your equipment can freely pick up the signal being bounced around within said Wi-Fi Hot spot. When this happens access to the equipment is no longer secure and anyone with a degree of knowledge, and the right equipment, can gain access to your laptop or PDA and thus your personal information within a short space of time.

Computer criminals have perfected this technique in recent times as the use of Wi-Fi Hot Spots has become more common. They have also managed to siphon hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, from the bank accounts of unsuspecting users by patching into email accounts, personal accounting software, and other means of storing personal information on laptop hard drives.

In much the same way Computer Forensics experts have also produced sophisticated programs and techniques which allow them to track wireless Internet activity as well as wireless mobile traffic.

They also can act as expert witnesses if such activity is detected and investigated and results in criminal proceedings being brought.

An individual can also use your laptop as a means of gaining access to the Internet, essentially using the laptop as a portal, and thus giving them access to a variety of sites which may be illegal or used for purposes not entirely proper whilst leaving no visible trace other than on the host laptops logging system.

Using a Wi-Fi Network is obviously a useful proposition if you are away from the office or home office but it does have drawbacks, the two most obvious being (a) the fact your laptop or PDA will become vulnerable to outside attack during the use of such a Hot Spot and (b) your information is potentially visible via the airwaves to a myriad of individuals whose desire to get their hands on your information could lead to a loss of money and the unauthorised use of your identity in the pursuit of criminal activities.

When you are away from home or the office it is wise to use only those Hot Spots where an encryption key is provided by the Hot Spots provider and also to ensure that when using your laptop away from the confines of the home or office that the amount of personal data stored therein is kept down to a minimum thus making the computer criminal’s job all that more difficult.

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